Building Bridges Toolkit

The Toolkit was designed to collect and share the know-how on voluntary projects involving people seeking or who have recently found refuge, as well as raising awareness on forced migration in general. The collection of guidelines, methods and case studies is non-exhaustive and should simply foster your own inspiration and support you in implementing projects on the topic. The creation of the Toolkit has been driven by the ever bigger need of the international SCI network to exchange best practices on projects in the field. It was coordinated by SCI Switzerland with the support of Útilapu Hungary. Its existence wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Mercator Foundation Switzerland and the active contribution of the Building Bridges working group and a number of SCI branches.


Recommended steps and tips

On this page, we summarize some points that we consider important to keep in mind, when you plan a project with asylum seekers and refugees. While compiling the document we thought about different types of projects such as workcamps or local long-term projects. If possible, we specify for which kind of projects certain points are applicable.

If you want to learn more about general project management, you can find many resources online, some of them are listed at the end.

    1. Initial phase

    Project idea – needs assessment
    For some reason you or your organisation decided to launch a project with asylum seekers and refugees and this decision was maybe inspired by a situation you had observed, another project, a general idea or a person you have met. Even if your project idea has been already implemented in a different country or in a different context, it is important to always study carefully the specific context in which the project should take place and to assess the needs of the target groups.

    Furthermore, think about the resources that you and the involved organisations need in order to realize the project.

    Ideas for a needs assessment:

    • Ask the asylum seekers and refugees themselves and other people working with them about their needs and interests. If you have an idea already, discuss it with them and see if it fits their needs and interests.
    • Find out what other organisations working in the field are already doing.
    • Read evaluations of previous projects – what were the lessons learnt?
    • Ask experienced project managers (volunteers, staff) for advice.

    Best practices:

    • Get to know the context in which the asylum seekers and refugees live and their background.
    • Get in touch with the reception center or organisation responsible for hosting asylum seekers and refugees and be aware of formal regulations.
    • Network with other organisations active in the field to foster cooperation and a common approach.
    • Include asylum seekers and refugees in the needs assessment – choose a participatory approach for project planning (e.g. Appreciative Inquiry, Problem Tree).
    • Be in touch with the local community and assess their needs and interests.
    • Get to know the skills and competencies of the volunteers and the asylum seekers in order to make use of them in the project.
    • Match needs and interests of asylum seekers with needs and interests of volunteers and local people.
    • Include representatives from the target group in the project team or plan regular feedback meetings.

    2. Planning phase

    When you have figured out the needs, you can start with the concrete planning of the project. Important steps in this phase are the definition of the specific aims of the project, the resources, milestones and time planning.

      1. Define aims, target groups, methods:

        • What is the aim of the project: Specify main and sub-goals and think of formulating them with the S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) method in order to make evaluation of the project possible.
        • Who are the target groups? Think of different target groups (asylum seekers, refugees, volunteers, local population, etc.), specify age, gender, etc.
        • Which methods do you use to achieve the goals of the project? (Which kind of activity, how often, etc.?) You can find inspiration and best practices in the Methods collection of this toolkit.

        Plan your resources:

        • Reflect what kind of resources and limitations (funding, human resources, skills, etc) your organisation and volunteers have regarding the project: You can use the SWOT method (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).
        • Be realistic! If you do not have enough resources, you might reduce the scale of the project or check if you can get additional resources (recruitment of more volunteers, fundraising, donations, etc.). If you decide to do fundraising, do not underestimate the time and administrative work it involves.
        • In order to avoid false expectations, make transparent to all involved parties what you can achieve with the project, what not and why.

        Make a specific plan:

        • Define a project timeline with milestones (consider the specific situation, e.g. turnover of asylum seekers, availability of volunteers and infrastructures, school holidays, etc.).
        • Make a task list with clear responsibilities and deadlines.
        • Make a budget taking into account all expenses that will be incurred and all possible income.

        Best practices for project planning:

        • Establish good relations and communication with project partners and other agencies involved: visit them – personal contact is important especially if it is a new collaboration.
        • Check what kind of material and resources can be made available from your organisation and the partner organisations.
        • Find out the perceptions as well as attitudes of local population to help bring the community together with the asylum seekers and refugees.

        Best practices when choosing methods and planning activities:

        • Start with trust-building-activities: for example to visit asylum seekers center regularly by local volunteers in order to get to know each other and find out more about the existing needs.
        • When choosing methods, be culturally sensitive.
        • Consider language barriers – rather choose activities with less need for verbal communication.
        • Consider plan b & c – don’t stick to fix plans.
        • Try and have male and female volunteers, so refugees/asylum seekers can relate better to them (have in mind cultural restrictions especially for ladies from Muslim cultures).
        • In summer camps/projects outside, female volunteers may need to avoid tank tops or shorts (to avoid uncomfortable situations with male Muslim asylum seekers).
        • Ask for instructions at the centres (staff, but also asylum seekers) about different cultural conventions you can meet.
        • Try to find things that could be a bonding point for locals and foreigners.

      3. Project Implementation

      • The first activities of a project are always the most challenging, but also the moment when we learn most. In this phase, it is important to evaluate each activity with the relevant stakeholders. You should collect feedback from the participants of the activity (volunteers, refugees/asylum seekers/local population) and discuss it with the project partner to find out if the expectations have been met and what can be improved.
      • Especially with children or people with fewer language skills, you can use creative ways of evaluation (e.g. in Switzerland during the whole project “TheaterFlucht” each child had a smiley magnet, which they could move up and down on a barometer between “happy”, and “sad”).
      • Be flexible and take into account feedback: adapt the planning of the activities, e.g. the daily schedule in a workcamp if it is too tiring for the volunteers.
      • If you adapt project activities, schedules, etc. make sure that you communicate it with the relevant stakeholders (staff at the center, other staff and board of your organisation, funders etc.)
      • Close the project with an official event. The event can show what has been achieved with the project. Examples are exhibitions of photos or a final presentation of a theatre piece, etc. which have been created during the project. The final event is also the moment to show recognition to volunteers, partners and everyone who supported the project. In a project with children, parents can be invited, e.g. at the end of “TheaterFlucht” weeks parents came to see the theatre play and at the same time contributed with some homemade food for the social event after the presentation.

      4. Team

      It depends on the project if a team is formed after some basic planning has already been done (e.g in the case of workcamps) or if a team starts to plan the project from the beginning (e.g in the case of local long-term projects).

      If a project team is in charge, it should meet regularly and take minutes about decisions as well as update the to-do-lists and if necessary the time plan.


        Best practices:

        • Clarify the roles inside the team and divide the tasks and responsibilities among team members.
        • Make sure that the project team knows which decisions it can take on its own and which have to be consulted with the partner organisations, funders, etc.
        • Have a coordination team (in case of big groups), that is involved in the planning and in contact with all the parties.
        • Discuss the resources with the group (number, time, knowledge of volunteers).
        • Plan time for team building (games, activities etc.).
        • Enable reflection of respect, flow of the group and self-care.

      5. How to involve refugees

      • Use participatory methods while planning and implementing projects (e.g. the problem tree).
      • Raise awareness about the positive aspects of the project. Make them realise the possibilities to become active, become a part of the activities and have some impact (see possibilities of volunteering, exchanging knowledge like languages, meeting new people).
      • Give people responsibilities such as facilitation tasks.

      6. Sustainability

      Reflect if it makes sense (according to the aims, available resources) to have either a short term or long-term project.

      • Consider the sustainability of the project.
      • Think about ways that some aspects of a project can make an impact for a longer time. For example even if a theatre project in a refugee center is only planned for two weeks, there might be a possibility that local refugees and volunteers are trained during the workcamp and can continue offering activities regularly once a week/month.
      • Already prepare from the start some tools for knowledge transfer (like toolkits and so on), so that not all the knowledge and experience disappears if some active volunteers drop out.

      7. Public Relations

      It is good to keep in mind, how you can inform more people about the project and the topic. So you might think about approaching media, setting up a blog, etc. Public relations and media work demand some reflections to get a positive result:

      • Make sure that you use the media and not the media uses you!
      • Decide which points you want to highlight for the public and formulate your message, e.g. in the form of a press release
      • If you invite journalists, make sure the protection of the participants is guaranteed. E.g. journalist who wants to get personal stories of asylum seekers can be insensitive towards traumatized or vulnerable participants. Make it clear to them that the report should be about the project, not about a single person and accompany them during their visit.
      • Discuss with the volunteers how to convey this message, if they are ready to be interviewed.
      • Before you create a report, publish photos, etc. you should ask for the permission of the people visible on the photos. For children, you need the permission of the parents. If not all parents give the permission, it is easier to organize a single photo day and on this day, children who shouldn’t be on the photos can wear a special badge (Tip from a professional photographer).

      8. Multipliers

      Plan the project in a way that people (volunteers, refugees, the general public) realize their own involvement, are inspired to take action and to realize some possible changes in their everyday life.

      Resources for project planning:

      Some methods from Action Research for Social Change might be useful for needs assessment and further planning. See for example other toolkits like these:

      Research for Organising

      T-Kit 3 Project Management

      Appreciative Inquiry website & video


      You can share your experience, observations, tips and tricks, pictures etc. by uploading for instance a method or a case study to the Building Bridges Toolkit. As this Toolkit is a work in progress to which all involved parties are invited to contribute, we would also be very grateful for your support and contribution in order to inspire others to continue the work towards peace and intercultural understanding.